Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Into the Deep Blue Sea - The Antikythera Wreck

Into the deep blue sea she went, a ship, or maybe two, with similar cargo on a similar voyage, sunk, lost, forgotten. Over time she was to give up and slowly disintegrate and vanish. Leaving few of her timbers behind and spilling all that belonged to her across the rocky sea bed off the Greek Island of Antikythera. And why wouldn't she give up on us? For she was old. Ancient even. Her timbers worn and worried by the sea currents since the First Century BC. She could not hold out forever. Waiting for us to find her and take back her cargo. Yet it was the secrets of her cargo that have captured our imaginations.

Her mysterious clockwork mechanism known as the The Antikythera Mechanism, the peculiar bronze objects yet to reveal their true identity, the strange rough sphere's, like rocks tossed across the sea floor, containing fragments of metal that could indicate that they were once bronze.
Then there was her treasure. Jewellery, Amphora, statues, weapons, perhaps more precious today as artefacts than they were in the First century BC when they fell into darkness.

Her grave lays beneath what was, for many centuries, a busy shipping lane and yet the Antikythera wreck is strangely an isolated event. Unlike many shipping lanes that are wretched with reefs and cliffs and that have been used for a long period of time, not many wrecks haunt the sea bed with her.

The wreck was first discovered in the early 1900s (1900-1901) by Sponge Divers, assisted by the Royal Greek Navy, who wasted no time in lifting some of her treasures to the surface.

Then in 1976 Jacques Cousteau popped his head in whilst filming a documentary called Diving For Roman Plunder. But the site where Cousteau found his artefacts is 200 metres from where the newest, perhaps truer, site has been found by Aggeliki Simossi of Greece's Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and Brendan Foley of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

In October 2012, this team did some dives in the area and using diver propelled vehicles strapped with High Resolution Video cameras they explored more ground than Cousteau or the sponge divers  and it was at the base of a steep underwater cliff, somewhere between 30 metres and 60 metres down, that they made their discoveries. The evidence of a ship wreck. Either the same one Jacques Cousteau had found, or, despite an Amphora making a dna match to amphora Cousteau found, potentially an entirely different wreck. The matching dna could mean that it is wreckage from the same ship, or perhaps from the same fleet or the same trader. 
Amoung their discoveries was a large lead anchor stock which may have indicated that the ship was sailing when it went down.
Later in 2013, they hope to return to the site full steam ahead. Loaded up with a better budget, bigger sponsors and better equipment, they will use metal detectors to survey the sediments in search of more metal and ceramic objects, and they will also do a full scientific excavation of the site. Cousteau found over two hundreds items in an excavation that was only a few metres square, so there is no telling what a large excavation project will turn up.

Theotokis Theodoulou examines the ship’s lead anchor stock,
about 1.4 metres long and weighing close to 200kg.
If you live in Greece or are nearby in April 2013, there will be a temporary exhibit of The Mechanisam and the Antikythera Shipwreck at the National Archaeological Museum. It is open from 6 April 2012 - 28 April 2013.
For the first time ever, ALL artefacts will be on display.
If you cannot make it, then the National Archaeological Museum in Greece hosts selected artefacts from the exhibition every month to feature online. Artefacts can be viewed here: Objects of the Month

The Museum states, in relation to the exhibition, that;

“The study of the cargo will deal with the circulation and trade in the East Mediterranean from the point of view of the aesthetic taste of the rising Roman elite in the end of the Hellenistic Era and the Rome’s democratic period.”
Sounds incredibly fascinating. You should check it out if you can.

- MM

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